Noise Makers

When Jesus came into the ruler’s house, and saw the flute players and the noisy crowd wailing, He said to them, “Make room, for the girl is not dead, but sleeping.”And they ridiculed Him. But when the crowd was put outside, He went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose. And the report of this went out into all that land.” Matthew 9:23-26
Short, but to the point today. This little miracle is sandwiched in between several other stories of Jesus’ supernatural healing in Matthew and it’s easy to skim through and miss some important details. Fresh off the healing of the woman who had been in need for years, the narrative jumps right into the ruler’s little daughter who was lying lifeless inside the house.
There was much commotion in and around the house. Flute players and a large crowd were wailing and crying and making all kinds of noise. When Jesus enters and announces that she is indeed not dead, but sleeping, they mock Him. He knows what He is doing, obviously, but before He raises her up, He sends them all out.
Sometimes, there is just too much noise. The well-meaning crowd can cause more harm than good if left to their own ways. How beautiful that Jesus wants to intervene for this child, but He first must quiet the place down and put the crowd outside.
I think we all have a crowd of flute players and wailers in our own lives. People who mean well, or just maybe want in on the scoop, but who aren’t necessarily helping our situation. There’s that old saying “make room for Jesus” and I think it’s true – we can’t hear Him or fully cooperate with Him if we have a house full of noise swirling around us all the time.
Sometimes, it’s between us and God. Period. It’s hard to shut out the voices, but when we finally do, miracles can and do happen. Put that crowd outside once in awhile and let Jesus in. The fantastic thing is that they all will see the fruits of this obedience and hopefully be changed by it too. This story says that “the report went out into all the land.” People mock and make noise because they don’t understand. Not everyone is worthy of a front row seat to something that’s between you and Jesus, and “too many chiefs” as we like to say, can really veer you off course. If He wants to come in today, make room. If the crowd of voices is too noisy, it’s ok to escort them outside for a bit. Sit with Jesus instead and watch as He performs what He has promised. Then… and only then… go share that good news with everyone else.

Holding On and Letting Go

For everyone who wants a formula… for all of us who clutch our to-do lists thinking they are the gateway to freedom only to find ourselves exhausted and worried sick… here’s some chain-breaking truth from Jennifer Dukes Lee’s new book It’s All Under Control:

“Here’s the truth that no one ever tells us –  or at least that no one ever told me: You don’t have to pick one road and walk that path for the rest of your life. Gospel living is not an either/or question. It’s both/and. It’s coming back to that fork in the road every day – with every decision, every obligation, and every relationship – and asking God to help you choose. This is the crossroads where we finally learn what’s ours to control and what’s not. To be truly surrendered to Christ, sometimes you’ve got to walk the road that says “Hang on.” When you walk that road, you will have to hang on tighter than you thought you could. Other times, you’ll have to walk the road of letting go.

How will you know which way to walk? You’ll know because you don’t stand at the crossroads alone, left to your own devices. “Your teacher will be right there, local and on the job, urging you on whenever you wander left or right: ‘This is the road. Walk down this road” (Isaiah 30:21).

In a moment of clarity, yo will know which way to go… when that clarity comes, trust the wisdom that God has given you, as scary as it is, and then take the next step. As you step out in faith, God’s peace will prevail – and that peace can come both in the letting go and in the hanging on.”

It’s not an either/or question! Oh how I love to live in the black and white world of my own decisions and processes. It’s so much easier there… if I do A, then this will happen, if I choose B, this will be the outcome. My critical thinking skills don’t always serve me well when Jesus invites me into unchartered territory. He wants me to follow Him, and I demand the GPS printout of the entire journey. The crossroads isn’t something I naturally embrace.

Do I hang on? Am I supposed to let go? If so… when? How? Life is one giant game of knowing when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em… and I’m pretty uptight at times about both of those things. I hold dear things that He wants me to loosen my grip on. I dismiss people or opportunities too quickly when He places them in my lap and says ‘give this a try’. Jesus stands at our crossroads and waits. He waits for me to put down my excuses, fears and well-intentioned lists and pick up my cross. The direction we go is up to Him and what a relief that is. I’m learning that He’s the only one who can tell me with clarity what to let go of and what to hang on to. I have my reasons, but they are usually wildly misguided. I want to be able to stand at each fork in the road and confidently… surrender. I want to obey. Control is a big, fat illusion to help us cope, but in the end, it leaves us busted up and more freaked out. Friends, we can’t control our way into a peaceful life, it comes through Jesus and Him alone.

Reading Jennifer’s book has been a journey in understanding that we do not have anything under control… but we serve a God who does. Are you a Driver? A Devoter? A Darling? We all have some quirks, some superpowers and our own kryptonite. This book is a Biblical look at the things that drive us to control our lives and the One who holds the key to unlocking it all.

The book is out today, and you can find the link here

Be blessed in the holding on and in the letting go friends!

Wash Your Face… But Read Your Bible

Image: Sheologians.com

Sharing today an article from the Sheologians website that I found really interesting. No small number of women are flocking to this easy-breezy “you go gurl” theology. It’s like big gulp of Red Bull… props you up for a bit, but you inevitably come crashing down at some point because it’s not actually what you body needs. At the very least, this is a great reminder to think before you read.

“Not a few of you have asked us about Rachel Hollis’s book, “Girl, Wash Your Face”. Admittedly, I have never read a “self-development” book, but since this baby is a New York Times bestseller and Hollis is currently sitting in the number one spot in Amazon’s Women’s Christian Living, Self-Help, and Religion and Spirituality sections, I am going to oblige. Perhaps I will finally learn how to help myself religiously. Or something.

I will tell you from the outset that I am not naturally drawn to any of these topics unless they are written by someone with years in ministry and a tried-and-true track record. It’s not that I think that Hollis can’t have anything worthwhile to say. It’s just that I tend to be skeptical when someone with an Instagrammable lifestyle blog spends a lot of time trying to convince me that, no, really. Honestly. She is so messy. Like the messiest. But you all know how I feel about copious uses of the word “messy” so I digress.

What I’m Expecting

I have purchased the book, I have read reviews, endorsements, Hollis’s Twitter feed, and the book’s introduction. I am supremely confused. Jen Hatmaker and Jefferson Bethke want you to read this book. An atheist Amazon reviewer liked the book. Pastor’s wives are sharing it with their congregants. Target is displaying it on their end-caps, which are usually reserved for heavyweight sellers like Oprah and Nicholas Sparks. Given that Joel Osteen is also usually following us with his eyes when we meander past said end-caps, but Hollis doesn’t have the same book selling history he does, I am going to make a few predictions:

Hollis is probably hilarious. It takes skill to make a reader laugh. I am expecting she can do this well. I bet she’s relatable, witty, and easy to read. Since her Amazon bio page has the word “empower” or some form of it at least five times, I am going to guess she is very Katy Perry Roar-y and we are going to know it by at least chapter two. Maybe we will all make like Sarah Bessey in Jesus Feminist and go out in the forest and clang pots and pans because, you know, girl power. I am going to guess that in some ways, she’s going to have a hard line on exactly what my inner monologue can be when I’m at my messiest. After all, this book is about not “believing the lies about who you are” and as a sinner, I am guilty of needing to correct my thinking all the time.

The Introduction

On the second page of the Introduction we read:

“Have you ever believed that you aren’t good enough? That you’re not thin enough? That you’re unlovable? That you’re a bad mom? Have you ever believed that you deserve to be treated badly? That you’ll never amount to anything? All lies. All lies perpetuated by society, the media, our family of origin, or frankly—and this is my pentecostal showing—the Devil himself.”

We should really make some distinctions here that Hollis doesn’t make. For starters, some of these are always a lie and some of these might be a lie and one is for sure true on the only scale in the universe that matters.

In Romans 3:11-12 we read:

No one is righteous, no, not one;

no one understands;

no one seeks for God;

All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;

no one does good,

not even one.

So the absolute truth is that you are not good enough, none of us are good enough, and none of us shall ever be good enough. We are not good. We are fallen. We are sinners. We reject and despise God. If you’re spending your time wondering if you are good enough or pronouncing that you are good enough, you are believing a lie. Jesus did not come and die on the cross because you were good. He did so because you will never be good enough. “Good enough”, in the context of the Christian life, has no place.

God did pronounce in Genesis that His creation was “good”. And the Bible does give us a holistic way to view ourselves as being image-bearers of God that is positive. Our Creator made us in His image and gave us the task of taking dominion over His creation. But I don’t get the feeling this is quite what Hollis is talking about, given that her list here of other possible lies includes things that simply do not correlate or have any teleological bearing.

For example, she lists “not thin enough” as a possible lie. On the next page she explains that “taking the easy way out is how you end up on the sofa, fifty pounds overweight, while life passes you by.” Apparently, for Rachel, there is a “not thin enough”.

I do want to note that she is right that no human deserves poor treatment from other humans. You do not deserve to be treated badly. But what about the notion that you are not unlovable? How can that always be true? Have you ever lived with another human for more than a day? Has that not been enough to convince you that sometimes humans act in incredibly unlovable ways? And wouldn’t that negate the very nature of the love of Christ—the God-man who loved us while we still hated him? Shouldn’t we be willing to confront our brothers and sisters when they are behaving in extremely unlovable ways, and isn’t that the best kind of love of all? The unconditional kind that images Christ and His bride? (Yes. The answer is yes.) Most of us have experienced the love of at least one other person, but that is certainly not because none of us have never been unlovable. And thank God for that.

There is freedom in understanding that we aren’t here to be good enough or lovable enough to earn anyone’s favor. We are called to something better. We are called to love our spouses and our children when they aren’t being lovable. Our spouses are called to love us when we aren’t being lovable. And upon the basis of Christ’s love and grace towards us, we are called to imitate Him. You can stop spinning your wheels trying to convince yourself you are “good enough.” You can rest in knowing that Christ loves the unlovable, and as you image Him more and more, the less unlovable you will be. Christ didn’t love unlovable you and then leave you in that state. He has freed you from bondage towards the sin that produces some extremely unlovable behavior.

The following page offered a ray of hope:

It’s worth asking, right here, right up front, where faith plays a role in all of this. As a Christian I grew up learning that God was in control, that God has a plan for my life, and I believe in the marrow of my bones that this is true. I believe God loves each of us unconditionally, but I don’t think that means we get to squander the gifts and talents he’s given us simply because we’re good enough already.

Okay, well, great. I am not sure how this plays out in the rest of her theology, and I won’t touch on her so-far-lacking “good enough” paradigm again in this section.

A caterpillar is awesome, but if the caterpillar stopped there—if she just decided that good is good enough—we would all miss out on the beautiful creature she would become.

I seriously doubt that caterpillars have the wherewithal to make “decisions”, both in the sense that she is using and not in the sense that she is using, and I’m offended we couldn’t get to the end of the first section without a misplaced caterpillar metaphor that literally has nothing to do with how we should use the talents God has given us.

All of this to say, the end of the introduction promises to exposit each of the lies Hollis has believed that have held her back, hurt her, and caused her to hurt others. She is going to tell us how she has taken the “power” away from these lies. I’m looking forward to finding out where Christ’s victory over sin and death comes in to this, how a Christian woman should battle insecurity, and if she’s willing to give Christ the glory in her battle against lies. Call me a skeptic, but I am not feeling super hopeful.”

Summer White

Plucking Forbidden Fruit

“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.” Genesis 3:6

“Good intentions get the best of us, don’t they? Eve probably didn’t go into her day with a diabolic item on her to-do list. 

Prune roses. Check. 

Feed the goofy-looking animals with really long necks. Check.

Take a stroll with God around lake. Check.

Try out new fruit. Check. Usher sin into world. Check.

Neither do we go into our days thinking, I’m going to be a control freak today and make myself miserable. Instead, we go into our days with self-made edicts of love. No one is more surprised than us when we turn around and find ourselves plucking forbidden fruit from trees that we had no business touching.” Jennifer Dukes Lee It’s All Under Control.

Do you ever notice the things that most drive you crazy in others are usually the exact shortcomings or sins that you yourself struggle with? It’s not easy to admit, but the controlling tendencies in others bring out the controlling tendencies in me. It would be funny if it wasn’t so darn sad. We vow we’ll never be like so-and-so… we would never handle the situation the way so-and-so did… only to find ourselves stuck in same miry mud puddles they are in.

Since the dawn of creation, we have craved control. It can come from an innocent place or a devious one. For most of us, I’d venture to say we don’t want bad things to happen, so we clench our fists as tight as we can. That old metaphor is true though, the tighter you squeeze, the more sand falls out onto the ground.

There’s this ‘surrender’ word floating around and it sounds nice.  We sing the old hymn “All to Jesus I surrender… all to Him I freely give”… all while checking our phone and adjusting our calendars. It’s not surrender if we don’t actually lay something down.

Here comes the inevitable BUT…

BUT I can’t just throw all caution to the wind and hope it works out! I can’t just let those proverbial chips fall wherever they may! Peoples lives are at stake here! Little people, big people, work people, projects, households… ALL THE THINGS!

Ironically, surrender doesn’t mean we toss up our hands and hope for the best. That’s fatalism, and Jesus wasn’t in the business of making things overly complicated. He said to we must surrender our lives to His will. There will be a cross to carry, but it is far better than the baggage we accumulate through our stubborn and prideful control.

It’s both funny and tragic that we are often so blind to the futility of all this micromanaging. Like Eve, we think things can work out better if we can just get our hands in the mix. In the end, we just come out with sticky, dirty hands. We don’t mean to go after the forbidden fruit, but our stubborn flesh just won’t rest until it gets to have a say in everything.

Do you know what I’m learning the hard way? We don’t need to have our hands in everything in order for it to work out. Moms of teens are really bad at this at times. Ask me how I know. Every day I have to choose to let them go just a little farther out into the world. Every day I want to intervene with my big ol’ opinions. It’s not always necessary and God is faithful to remind me that I have to lay down my control and pick up my cross.

Half-hearted surrender isn’t very useful. Jesus asks for everything we’ve got, and in return, He promises to keep it and sort it better than we ever could have ourselves.

“Then He placed His right hand on me and said: Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.” Revelation 1:17

Can you picture Him? Hand on our shoulder telling us not to fret. Like two giant bookends, The First and the Last is here with us and He promises to guard whats in the middle. We can trust that we don’t need to go chasing after other fruit.

Get Your Control Under Control

I’m excited to have the chance to review Jennifer Dukes Lee’s new book (to be released in a few weeks) Its All Under Control. I haven’t read it entirely through yet, but wanted to just share some thoughts on this heavy topic we all struggle with: control.

Bleh. I think if we’re honest, we all deal with this at least sometimes. From a quirky need to have the countertops sparkly all the time to stepping over the line in personal relationships out of insecurity… control can take us from freedom to bondage in a heartbeat. I love this passage she shares:

“When you are at your best, you are plugged into the limitless resurrection power of God, who pulses through you with tremendous force. God created you for great things, and when you live as one empowered, you do these things really well.

But when you are under stress, you are probably like me: running dangerously close to empty a lot of the time. It’s hard for you to tell the difference between what’s essential and what’s unimportant, so you do it all. You wrap your arms around everything, just in case. Without proper fuel, you try to generate your own strength – as if you can propel your car with your feet, like Fred and Wilma Flintstone. This leaves you worn out and calloused. You need to get your control under control.”

Ouch. Get your need to control under control. Our lives aren’t really conducive to this though, and the more we think about it or try to “let it go” be more tangled up we get. We don’t like when things don’t go our way. We squirm at the thought of being uncomfortable. So we orchestrate and we delegate. We plot and plan.

The crazy “new normal” is too much for me. I have no desire for it, yet I’m caught up in it.

Years ago I studied the topic of Biblical surrender at great length. I remember vividly learning about abiding in Jesus. We lived in Germany at the time, along the Rhine river which was full of vineyards. I need to revisit that often as life moves forward and circumstances change. We are required to hold on to some things and let go of others. Out desire to control all the outcomes has to be put down… daily.

Take up your cross… it rings in my ears a lot lately when I find myself running away from the hard things. We are called to carry our cross, but not our baggage. Here’s a huge difference. I hope to dive deeper into that as the next weeks unfold.

“Let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.” Hebrews 12:1

Defeater Beliefs

“I’m a Christian, BUT…”

“Well sure I believe the Bible is true BUT…”

We live in a time and place where fence-sitting could be a national sport. It’s good to be grey, bendy, undefined… unless you have defined yourself in which case, be whatever you want. There’s always some crazy hoopla surrounding “Christian” celebs or pastors who choose to go off into the grey, and rightly so.

There’s a great article, entitled “Gracious Confidence is More Appealing than Angst and Doubt that appeared in the Gospel Coalition and really hits the nail on the head I think. The idea of “defeater” beliefs is fascinating to me because it’s these beliefs are being used to draw people in. I have to say, I’m of the opinion that there’s so much beauty and freedom to be found in true Biblical Christianity, you don’t need to have a “yeah BUT…” excuse at any time. Too many big shots are out there preaching a pathetic version of the Bible because they are afraid of bringing the truth to sinners. How arrogant and prideful we have become when we take the responsibility upon ourselves to impress people with our words and actions. Love everyone, yes, but for heavens sakes give them something to believe in.

“But what happens when there are immediate “defeater” beliefs, such as “Christianity is intolerant because you believe Jesus is the only way” or “Christians believe in hell,” or “Christians discriminate against LGBT people because they don’t perform same-sex marriages”? When we come up against these objections, it’s easy to assume that the way to win hearing is to present the teachings of the Christian faith in the most tortured way possible, almost as if we too are as uncomfortable with our religion’s teaching as they are. We build common ground by acting as if we hold in common an outsider’s aversion to Christianity.

By presenting the image of ourselves as “wrestling” with challenging teachings, we think we come across more human, more vulnerable, and more authentic. We’re convinced we are more winsome when we make it seem as if we’d love for Christianity or the Bible to be different, or we’d love to find a way to interpret these texts differently, but right now, we’re just in the same season of struggle as many people of faith are, as we try to reach the modern world. I believe this approach is fundamentally misguided. There is nothing attractive about people proclaiming the lordship of Jesus who, deep down, resist some of the King’s commands. It’s like saying, “Jesus is Lord, but I don’t like it.”

There’s nothing attractive about inviting people to become part of a community that doesn’t know what it believes, or that is fundamentally uncomfortable with its own teachings. Yet this is the approach that I see among many evangelicals, particularly those of my own generation, who are trying to gain a hearing for the gospel.

I get it. It’s tough to present the beauty of Christianity in a culture in which the plausibility structures are set against you, in a pluralist society that sees all evangelism as intolerant, in an age that sees one’s self-expression (especially sexually) as fundamental to identity. Yes, it’s tough. We can all feel that pressure.

But we do ourselves no favors by backpedaling, by coming up with tortured explanations of why we believe what we believe, or by acting as if our hands are (unfortunately) tied by the biblical text we say is our authority.”

It isn’t authentic to not know what you believe. If we want to share the good news we must first not be ashamed of it, because it is indeed good news. When we act as though Jesus was just messing around when He said A, B or C we are saying our small brain knows better. Here’s a tip: we don’t.

We struggle and we sin, but we don’t totally leave the ranch for other pastures. There’s a truth that anchors us, centers us, and keeps us within the realm of Gods bounty, but when we proclaim to know more and simply bask in our “wrestling” we miss the freedom that Christ died to give us.

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” 1 Peter 3:15

With gentleness and respect. We respect man more than God Himself when we change His gospel. We may be smart and witty and oh so plugged in to the heartbeat of our culture, but it benefits us nothing if we lose Christ along the way.

Rise Up

I have a friend who told me a most eye-opening story the other night. She was speaking with a fellow mom who candidly just blurted out how Facebook was making her feel like crap. “Do you ever feel like that?” she asked. When my friend explained she wasn’t on any social media and neither were her teens, she was met with total confusion. “Well… do your kids even have any friends then?” was the honest and brutal response. It turned into a whole long debate, but ended with my sweet friend holding up her phone and proclaiming “this may define you and your family, but it’s not going to define mine!” And that was that.Sadly, unplugged people like her are kind of an anomaly these days. We treat them like weirdos and wonder how they ever get anywhere in life. To say we are letting the tail wag the dog is an understatement. We genuinely believe that going with the flow is in our best interests, even when it causes hurt and harm. It’s not that we don’t have the intelligence to know better, we do. There’s just this nasty thing called pride that will not be hushed. It’s fueled by a relentless enemy who knows that if he can keep us focused on ourselves, we can’t focus on much else. This passage from Lisa Whittle takes the breath right out of my lungs as she laments seeing kids she loves fall into this trap:“I have heard this story over and over again, and I’m sick to death of it. Another talented, God-breathed soul with a limitless future stuck in a web of earthly entanglements that will alter the course of his life. My anger takes me aback. I expect the sadness. I expect the tears, I don’t expect the mad. But my sadness has taken me here, to the manic food chopping and yelling out loud at the devil. With deep love often comes a rising up, and this is where I am. I am fighting for this kid and my kids and all the kids whom satan wants to take down with drugs and sex and alcohol and porn and self-harm and eating disorders and violence and apathy and entitlement and mind games. All my heart and soul and love is rising up within me and crying out.”I think this is what my normally quiet friend must have felt. In this long list of tragic vices, I find apathy to be the worst. It robs us of any desire to get out of our predicament. We stay lazy and self-focused and uninterested in rising up.Proverbs 29:18 says “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint.” If our highest goal is to look good or if we are driven by a fear of missing out… we are going to “cast off restraint” and make poor choices. It can be as dull as wandering aimlessly or as deadly as running totally wild. A vision is more than just a pipe dream or even a goal… in this context, it means revelation from God. A Biblical vision gives us a bigger purpose outside of ourselves. It’s the thing we align ourselves up with because we believe it to be worthy. It’s looking beyond the little screen in front of us to something larger.Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Approval from God first and foremost. Let the rest shake out how it will, but being right with God is first. Yes, we will look weird at times. We may even miss out on some things. There’s a heavy-handed message telling us to keep on in that rat race and que sera sera… it’s the enemy hoping we’ll trade in the vision for some cheap imitation. The God-breathed kind of adventures are so much more interesting than the filtered little worlds we create. Being unapologetically tied to His Word eliminates a ton of dicey situations if we have the good sense to seek it and treasure it. This “web of earthly entanglements” is no game, but neither is the riches in grace that have been provided to believers through Jesus. Power to rise up and fight for what the enemy has stolen. Crazy love that keeps our feet planted when they want to turn and run. A sound mind that can be quiet and humble in a world gone totally mad. Power, love and a sound mind are riches worth fighting for (1 Timothy 1:7).Will we rise up and fight against this apathy? Will we tell the demanding world that it isn’t actually the boss of us or our kids? We don’t need to go cold turkey on it, but we do need to hitch our wagons to something that isn’t fleeting, something bigger than what we create. “We ought to obey God rather than men.” Acts 5:29